In this policy statement we consider how a commercial approach to building a UK Fast Reactor could effectively meet the government’s nuclear objectives.
Since the 1950s, fast neutron reactors (or simply fast reactors) have been researched due to their potential to utilise uranium much more efficiently than conventional reactors. However, for the past few decades, while uranium prices have been relatively low, there has been little incentive in the UK for further work on this technology.
In March 2013 the UK government published its long-awaited 'Nuclear Energy R&D Roadmap', which sets out the research outcomes that will support implementation of future nuclear technology pathways. As part of the plan, fast reactor technology is once again being considered as a means of deriving more energy from nuclear fuel.
The UK government should consider funding the development of Fast Reactor technology now.
To set the UK on a pathway towards a ‘Closed Fuel Cycle’, in accordance with the government’s proposed Nuclear Energy R&D Roadmap, some initial strategic public funding is needed to demonstrate key elements of the technology and act as a catalyst to stimulate commercial investment to develop a plant.
- The UK government must commit to pay for the disposition of the plutonium stockpile in an operational reactor.
Once initial development has been stimulated to follow a commercial pathway, an operational reactor will emerge earlier than if a long-term government-funded research & development programme is pursued. This will benefit the UK through disposition of the nation’s plutonium stockpile in a shorter timescale than via alternative approaches. However, for the commercial solution to be sufficiently attractive, it will be necessary for the government to commit to pay for the disposition of the UK’s plutonium stockpile once a reactor is operational.
- The UK government needs to recognise the potential opportunity for UK industry in Fast Reactor technology.
The development of Fast Reactor technology in the UK provides the potential for the country to become a world leader in the associated engineering and manufacturing. This would lead to a long-term export opportunity for UK business and enable the UK to regain a position as a leading player in nuclear power, rather than an informed customer for imported technology and engineering.